Sympathy for the Dilettante
The reveal which has had many on the edges of your seats.
Faithful readers, you deserve a warning. This surprise? No anti-climax here. The Sisterwives are honoured to provide a safe space for Helena to step out and be seen for THE FIRST TIME. Hold your breath, your shock, your applause…to the very end. Let the writer speak.
I don’t think I get blogging.
I feel like the shy kid in the back corner of the class, writing strange poetry while the others fawn over the latest issue of Teen Beat magazine.
I don’t fit in. I’m not comfortable in my own skin sometimes, and I tend to spend too much time in my own head. I see others laughing, and wish to join in — do you want a confession? I envy them, because they seem to understand happiness, where I can’t. I’m always noticing the slime and the muck of life, and it doesn’t help that I’m clinically depressed and sometimes focus overlong on things I ought to let go of.
I know what you want to hear, but have, up until now, been unwilling to give it. I’ve tried to meet you halfway, by giving you a glimpse into my life, and then I tell you that it’s partially fabricated, so as to distance myself, and I get the feeling that it’s easy to forget that there’s a human being behind that paper smile. I made up Helena so that I could mix the truth with lies. That’s what an artist does, after all. I am a writer of fictions great and small.
You’ve never seen anything like me. Nobody does it like I do. I don’t fit. You don’t know what to do with me. I get it.
What do you want to know? Has my mysterious demeanour turned you off? Do you find me inaccessible? I’m here to answer your questions, including the ultimate one: Who is Helena Hann-Basquiat?
Why wear the paper mask at all?
I’m fiercely protective of my privacy, and I’m honestly a bit whigged out by the manufactured intimacy of the internet. On the one hand, it’s a great place for people to share — whether ideas, stories, etc… — but it’s artificial, isn’t it? I mean, how many Catfish stories do we have to hear before we begin to realize that very few people, if any, are exactly what they say they are on the internet? We all put our best foot forward, and we trust that the people we’re talking to bear us no ill will.
A lot of blogging is about being genuine, and that way the reader can build a relationship of sorts with the writer – doesn’t that matter to you?
I don’t want to be the brave one. I don’t want you to love me or feel sorry for me, I want to tell you a story — and ironically, I think I’m more honest about the fact that I’m telling you a story than most. There is a thin line between blogging and writing/storytelling — and I’d say that most of the really engaging bloggers are actually storytellers — I think of Beth or Mandi, and I think that if you asked them to define what it is they do, you might be surprised. But the truth is, as soon as you take something out of a simple recitation of the facts and put it into a narrative, you have changed it into a story — a story based in part or in whole on the truth, but life is no narrative. You leave out insignificant details, or change the timing of things, or forget details, and what you end up with is an edited version of reality, and that’s a writer’s job. A writer telling a story has to choose the perspective they’re going to tell it in, has to make decisions about how much power that narrator is going to have — will that narrator be able to ascribe thoughts or feelings or motivations to others? Does the narrator know the whole story, or are we all along for the ride together? The fact that I write in diversions, or break the fourth wall to address my audience, or explore different narrative techniques does in no way detract from the authenticity of my stories. I’m doing the same thing as other writers, only turned up full volume. The great thing about being Helena is that I can tell deeply personal stories — sometimes painful stories — without bleeding all over the page. Truthfully, if you think of some of the most painful things that have happened to you, you could likely sum them up in a couple sentences. But a) that doesn’t tell the whole story — it doesn’t account for the inner turmoil you felt, it doesn’t allow for inner monologue or commentary on the whole situation and b) it makes for a lousy fucking read.
So, to answer your question — does it matter to me that my readers be able to build a relationship with me; that I be perceived as genuine?
I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care whether people like me or not — but first and foremost, I want people to enjoy and interact with the writing — that’s the only me they’re ever really going to get, after all. Very few people get to be real friends with me — I’m really not that good a friend!
But on the flipside, the question of entitlement and responsibility keeps surfacing in my mind — how much does a writer owe their readers? Do I owe you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? When you read my stories, do you love the stories, or do you love me? I get a kick out of making people laugh, making people cry, taking people to strange, surreal places. I delight in entertaining people — I always have. I used to put on plays for my parents and their friends as a child. I’ve been writing stories since I could put pen to paper, and my fondest memories take place on a stage, whether acting in a school play or singing with a band. But how much of ME are you entitled to? The answer: As much as I’m willing to give you, and nothing more.
What’s your favourite pizza topping?
Finely seared human flesh would probably be Jessica’s answer, right? Okay, one of the best pizzas I ever had was an Alfredo base, with grilled chicken, roasted garlic and artichoke hearts. Not something I could eat every day, but it was delicious and I’ll always remember it.
How come you’re complaining when you’re the one hiding behind fiction?
Complaining about what? Complaining that I feel detached? Sigh. I don’t know if what I’m doing is complaining but rather trying to take the temperature of my supposed audience. Because those few that love me, seem to really love me, and they rave about the writing. The writing is the thing, you see, but the writing doesn’t just magically appear — I have to write it. I’m just reminding people that there is an “I” here. An “I” that wants to connect with you through my writing. And so I have been worrying that be being anonymous, by protesting that I don’t want to be known, that people don’t get invested in the writing. Right or wrong — whether I think that’s fair or not — I fear it’s the case. When I first started out as Helena, it was a complete roll of the dice, as far as my ego went. Nobody knew who I was, and the writing would either stand on its own — in which case my ego would be placated — or it would flop, at which point my ego would pack its bags and move to Tiujuana and likely overdose on some bad Mexican brown.
When I first began writing, I was very detached. But somehow, I started letting bits of myself slip in, and California started coming back to me, and then Halesowen, and while I had never told these stories before, Helena could tell them. She could be that person for me. She could be vulnerable, and people would accept her — people would even love her. And I think that I have been brutally vulnerable at times — perhaps too much so. I’m always worried that by being vulnerable, I’m going to push people away. And so I wear a mask, so that it’s not ME that’s being vulnerable, it’s Helena. But I’m not milking artificial pain for readers. My laughter and my tears are genuine. There’s a real person behind Helena, and if you take the time to get to know me, you’ll know that the lines blur — I’m not that good a writer that there’s not so much of myself in Helena.
So who are you, then? Let’s cut to the chase.
Some people call me the space cowboy…
First and foremost, I am a dilettante. I have dipped my hand into any endeavour that I took a shine to. I’m a wanderer, and for the first time in my life, I’ve been in the same place for longer than I can believe.
I’ve been a poet and a painter (horrid things), a novelist, an actor, recently a playwright, an editor of a literary magazine ever so briefly. I’ve been a smoker, I’ve been a midnight toker, and more than once I’ve played the fool (I’ve got pictures to prove it). I’m a musician, a singer, a lover of wine. I’ve lived in abject poverty, and I’ve eaten food that would cost most people a week’s salary. I’m a survivor of child abuse, and I suffer from clinical depression. I’m a storyteller — which some might say is a fancy word for liar, darlings, but I’m not one of them.
I am a creator, and I created Helena — and became her — to see if I could. What began as just a paper mask to wear so that I could differentiate myself from my writing has become my persona, and I’ve spent more time over the last two years being Helena than I have being myself. It’s been an amazing experience, one which I plan on writing about, if you’d care to listen.
I’ve already hinted that one of the main reasons I don’t go by my own name is because of my father — that I didn’t want to be associated with him. That is 100% true. See, he named me after himself.
My name is Ken, and for the past two years, I have been writing as Helena Hann-Basquiat (and hey, Jessica B. Bell, too).
I’m a husband, a father of three girls, a feminist, a writer, and some of you call me friend.
And I’ve been juggling all this for some time now, and my arms are tired. I open up the floor to you, and will gladly answer your questions, so long as they’re not about underwear. Boxer briefs. There, mystery solved.
Moreover… I’m not finished. I have so many more stories to tell you, if you’ll just take my hands and let me show you.
A Final Note from the Sisterwives:
We value our readers. We value your stories, your thoughts and your opinions. We also pride ourselves on providing a safe place to share the stories you can’t share anywhere else. It’s who we are.
We encourage open and frank conversations of the why’s and wherefore’s of Ken’s masquerade and subsequent reveal. That kind of exchange is also something we pride ourselves on.
We also understand that for some of you, the reaction may be intense and personal. We would respectfully request that you contact Ken directly with discussions of that nature. We feel that those kind of conversations deserve the kind of respect that can only be facilitated in privacy.
Thank you for your continued support of the The Sisterwives project. Alone, we are enough – but together we truly are stronger.
The enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.
She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming.
She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populace or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them.
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Earlier this year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell – VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com.
Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat